BIDDEFORD — For the past year, Derek Volk, president of Volk Packaging Corp., has spent nights, weekends and even days away from his manufacturing business to focus on what has become one of the most important parts of his life: discussing the book he wrote about his 24-year-old son Dylan and his experiences raising a child with Asperger’s syndrome.
Volk’s first idea was not to write about his son, but instead to write a book about business or his company, a mainstay in the Biddeford Industrial Park since 1967 that now employs nearly 80 people.
But he soon came to understand that the story he wanted to write – the book he needed to write – would be about his son.
“I really had no expectations for the book,” he said. “I didn’t even tell Dylan I was writing it until it was completed.”
Volk thought that when the manuscript was finished, it might simply remain something for the family and would never really go beyond his desktop computer.
“I spoke to my daughter Mariah, who was a sophomore in college at the time,” he said, “and I asked her if she would type the manuscript as I recorded it.”
His daughter agreed, and for the next nine months, Volk sent her the body of the book.
As the writing progressed, Volk realized there were quite a few books written about children with Asperger’s. But very few, if any, were written by a father.
“I remember thinking that if this thing ever sees the light of day, it has some potential,” he said.
When Volk finished the book, he told his son what he had been doing for almost a year.
“I thought he was going to shoot the whole project down,” Volk said. “But he was fine with it, and I started sending him one chapter at a time to read.”
As he had done many times in his life, Dylan surprised his father. After reading each chapter, he included his own ideas about that particular portion of his life. Those sections, “Dylan’s Takes,” became an integral part of the book.
Volk self-published “Chasing the Rabbit” in April 2015. He realized he and his son would now be able to talk about the issues and struggles they faced, and maybe raise the level of awareness surrounding Asperger’s.
“So it started as something that I just felt I had to do. Now, a year later, it is even less about the money or sales figures, because I’ve been overwhelmed by the experience,” Volk said.
Volk said the title of the book represents a struggle Dylan has had his entire life .
“I have always described Dylan using the analogy that he is like a greyhound, and the plastic mechanical rabbit is normal,” he said. “Dylan can see it, what it means to be normal, and he knows exactly what it looks like, but no matter how fast he runs or how much he exhausts himself, he can never catch it.”
Dylan lives on his own in Texas but is often at his father’s side as they speak about the book, their faith, and their family. Together, they have spoken and given more than 50 presentations at conferences and libraries, and to support groups.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the experience. That is really the only word I can use to describe the response people have had to our story, both when they read our book and when they attend our presentations,” Volk said.
Volk said the book has given his family, customers and other parents of children with Asperger’s a glimpse into their world.
And he thinks the experience has changed all of them for the better.
“Whether (a presentation) is to 15 or 500 people, when the question-and-answer period begins, I could almost leave the room because everyone just wants to hear from Dylan,” he said. “He is always incredibly open and honest with his answers, not holding anything back.”
Smiling, he added, “Now I know how Ringo Starr felt.”